The Movie Waffler First Look Review - SKIN DEEP | The Movie Waffler

First Look Review - SKIN DEEP

Skin Deep review
young couple travel to a mysterious island where they're offered the chance to swap bodies with another couple.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Alex Schaad

Starring: Mala Emde, Jonas Dassler, Maryam Zaree, Dimitrij Schaad, Edgar Selge

Skin Deep poster

Of course, if I had to, it would be Penélope Cruz. On the happenstance of a person twisting my arm and forcing me to body swap with somebody else (you know, like in that abiding genre staple of '80s VHS comedy), I'd choose the coolest and most stylish human being on planet Earth. I'd recreate last year’s photoshoot for Geox (a favourite), continue stealing the show in every film my presence graced, and just generally exude a luxurious air of intelligence, elegance and warmth. Or would I? I mean, after all, there must be more to being Penélope Cruz than winning a genetic jackpot. Elegance is earned, intelligence is developed, warmth is attributed. So, who's to say that I wouldn't make a right balls up of being Penélope Cruz? And if I am Penélope Cruz, do I have to do Penélope Cruz things? More I think about it, more acting seems like a right chore, too - cba, sorry Mr Almodóvar. If Penélope Cruz is me then am I now my own biggest fan? Like a musician who can never see their own band live, I'll never have the objective pleasure of watching Penélope Cruz as not Penélope Cruz. And would the experience of watching a Penélope Cruz film become like when I re-read older pieces of my writing now, an alien blend of over-familiarity and hitherto unnoticed errors in my attempts to be Penélope Cruz?

And if you don't think the above paragraph is all a bit asinine, self-involved and circumlocutory then please allow me to recommend Alex Schaad's (with co-writing from Dimitrij Schaad) Skin Deep with its hour and 43 minutes provision of similarly inane rumination concerning the nature of allure, gender and identity. Except with less implied Penélope Cruz.

Skin Deep review

Yet, there is glamour. Following a strange prologue (of which more later), we follow a young couple - Leyla and Tristan - as they disembark upon a Scandinavian island in summer (Preetz actually, but close enough), ostensibly for a spot of glamping with the cheery commune who are already in situ. The island is Insta-ready, with a visual set and colour scheme borrowed from the pre-Raphaelites: flowing water, long/red hair, medieval clothing. Classy. And exclusive too. There is a pool where, if you have a dip in it, your essence can be transposed to the body of another bather and vice versa (or Vice Versa, 1988). Not your typical Trip Advisor boast...

The imperial framing of the island and the prominence of aquatic space (the opening credits are imposed over beautiful young people submerged in the water, an amniotic context for these adult-children), along with an early cameo from Rembrandt’s Diana Bathing with her Nymphs with Actaeon and Callisto, seemingly locate the narrative within the grandeur of Classical mythology. The dominant plot touchstone would be Narcissus, wherein an overwhelmingly vain young man thought he was a lake and drowned himself. Likewise, via Skin Deep's magical spa spring, Tristan (Jonas Dassler - the process of assigning cast names to character is weird, as they essentially play several roles, but I am not about to query IMDB) and Leyla (Mala Emde) swap their physicalities with Mo (Dimitrij Schaad) and Fabienne (Maryam Zaree - what a gorgeous name) during the film's first act. You can just imagine the sort of existential to-do it sets off...

Skin Deep review

One character can't bear it, one likes having sex with a "different" person, one likes having sex with different gender equipment; they all find themselves behaving in ways they normally wouldn't, and in the end another one doesn't want to give up the new body (like when you borrow a lovely item of clothing from a friend and it suits you far better than them, it is just obvious, and so forget to return it).

The first issue with Skin Deep is it seems deeply impressed with its own over familiar concept, to the extent that merely presenting such a notion in and of itself is weighty and provocative. I mean, even Tom Hanks has body swapped. Rob Schneider! Frothy comedy aside, within more elevated texts (yeah, you know what I mean), the ramifications of gender and identity relocation are consistently and deftly examined within specifically genre contexts (Get Out, Possessor). Skin Deep's ostensibly tasteful mise-en-scene and rhythms make for a comparatively superficial exploration.

Skin Deep review

It transpires that the film's opening non-sequitur refers to the island leader Stella (played by septuagenarian Edgar Selge), who is a young woman in a much older and male presenting body: using the ritual, her father sacrificed himself for his very unwell daughter. A heart-breaking and beautiful concept which entails more pathos and dramatic potential than Skin Deep has at large. And thus, the other, and more fatal, problem with Skin Deep is that it reductively explores its ideas within the restricted vanities and jejune anxieties of millennials. This mob, with their youth and Balenciaga model looks, all seem fairly interchangeable even pre-ritual. You get the feeling that they're just re-enacting the same sort of dramas they most likely would be anyway, with or without the swap. An 18-30s holiday with Erving Goffman pretensions.

It is beautifully filmed, and apropos its solipsistic sexuality, Skin Deep does feature a healthy amount of nudity (I did like the scenes when a female character discovers the joy of having a penis - just the surprise of having this responsive little pleasure toy between the legs - hahaha!). There is plenty of skin here, it's just not that deep.

Skin Deep is in US cinemas from February 2nd. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

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